Apr 062009

DeepLeapDeepLeap is a brand new web game, that brings speed scrabble to the masses.

Apart from the fact that the scoring system is quite unlike scrabble, and the unused tiles are taken out fast.

Too bad the games are ephemeral, and high scores are not tallied. My personal best thus far is 616. The dictionary tends to be rather generous, even though there are some odd omissions (neither dane nor blog is allowed). But this is a game in beta, and improvements ought to make this even more enjoyable.

Heavily recommended.

Apr 032009

Ticket to Ride LogoAlan R. Moon’s Ticket to Ride was has been a major success for Days of Wonder, the production company.

The game puts up a simplified geography of the 19th century US, commanding the players to set up tracks between the towns of the day. The track laying is all about collecting sets of matching carriage cards and figuring out the appropriate routes. The tickets add another scoring element, setting up bonuses for connecting specific locations with tracks.

The game is random by nature, meaning that every bout is more or less different from each other. This ensures the longevity of the game which turns boring or predictable far slower than expected. This, in addition with the easy to learn rules has been fundamental in settling the massive sales for the game.

A game that has turned into a franchise with spinoffs. While the original game was set in the wide open expanses of the united states, the followups turned to far more confined spaces, first Europe (introducing tunnels), Germany (the Märklin-specific variant using far prettier cards than any of the others), the Scandinavian region and finally Switzerland, before embarking on turning to additional game mechanics like dice. But that’s just the beginning, enterprising fans have turned additional countries and regions into playing fields.

The Xbox 360 Live Arcade game is a pretty good take on the original, though it features an awful color scheme (where different colors are nicely mixed up).

Feb 222009

Carcassonne:  the Castle LogoFollowing the presentation of the original Carcassonne last week, let’s continue the irregular series with the sole spin-off game I’ve bought thus far.

Carcassonne: The Castle is Reiner Knizia’s take on the concept, and while the basic mechanic is unaltered from the original, the courtyard-building game is quite a different beast.

While the original work with just two players, the experience is not as good as with three or four, as the resources dwindle too early in the set. The Castle has been constructed for two players, and two players only.

The playing field is limited to the castle walls, so the design cannot uncontrollably spiral out. The surrounding wall serves as the scoring track also, with tower crenellations bearing bonus tiles for the player whose meeple lands on the exact spots.

While the tile-laying/meeple-placing mechanic is carried over as-is from the basic Carcassonne, the tile-placement rules are far looser in this game. Only the roads have to match, the rest of the construction can be as chaotic as it gets. As with the King/Scout expansion to the basic Carcassonne game, the sizes of constructed elements matter – the owner of the biggest house gets to claim points for the unconstructed squares in the end. Unlike the original, in the Castle incomplete features do not bring in any points (unless a corresponding bonus tile has been previously obtained from the scoring track).

Knizia’s take of Carcassonne is a good variant, and works well as a two-player game. The interaction between players is as minimal as in the original, but the enforced tightness of the area does force the constructions to collide sooner or later. The fields remain important, but the game is usually not won over their control, as the criss-crossing paths bisect the courtyard into cleanly separate areas.

As the Boardgamegeek page notes, no expansions nor a digital version of the game exists. The game feels complete enough without the former, but a good Live Arcade game would be appreciated indeed.

Feb 192009

Professor Layton and the Curious Village LogoProfessor Layton and the Curious Village is a puzzle game for Nintendo DS console.

True to its name, the game centers around solving puzzles in a village packed with more mysteries than EU directives allow.

The puzzles are realized perfectly with the dual-screen hardware, and the touch interface is used admirably to render several categories of brainteasers. The individual puzzles range from often seen classics to new inventions. A lot of them do seem oddly familiar, but all in all the selection is wide and no single genre is overplayed.

The plot of the game initially seems to be nothing more than an awkward scaffold for the collection of puzzles, but soon the haphazard themes are tied together to a mostly coherent whole. Graphically the game is pleasantly simple. The presentation is rarely the reason when a solution to a problem is not forthcoming. A couple of extended video scenes are short and pointful, appropriately located at clearly-cut turning points of the story. Musically the quasi-classical tunes rarely annoy – the themes change with the location and progress in the story. The slow pace of the music complements the unhurried nature of the game well.

The Curious Village is the first part of a trilogy. The other two have not been published outside of Japan yet. Based on the success of the debut, it would be odd if the latter two wouldn’t be released in short order.

Feb 192009

Carcassonne LogoCarcassonne is the board game whose finnish edition back in 2004 kickstarted the new boardgame boom.

Originally designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, the game has reaped award after award around the world.

It’s an easy game to learn, but due to its random nature very hard to master.

The game centers on the chaotic town of Carcassonne in the southern France. The randomly created gameboard mimics the layout of the medieval town and its surroundings – the fields surround small hamlets and monasteries, crisscrossed with roads.

Carcassonne features some interaction between players, but it’s mostly a simple resource management game. Each player has a limited number of citizen pieces, and their appropriate placement on the newly constructed structures is the key to victory. The game works out best when there are three to five players, but it is enjoyable with two players also.

Carcassonne has given birth to a number of expansions and spin-off games. The former add elements to the basic game (ranging from extra tiles to magic and a wooden catapult used to shoot tokens onto the playing field). The latter transplant the basic tile/citizen-mechanic is to other environments (ranging from stone age to the conquest of the Americas).

Sierra has crafted a competent version of the game for the Xbox 360 Live Arcade.

All in all Carcassonne has served well as an introduction to the world of modern board games (tigether with Guillotine the duo has been responsible for attracting quite a few new players).

Jan 262009

Guillotine LogoGuillotine, published in 1998 by Wizards of the Coast, is a deceptively simple card game that is easily taught and enjoyed by pretty much anybody who can distinguish between gallows humor and actual celebration of nobility getting decapitated.

Indeed, the subject of the game is on the grim side. It depicts a struggle between rival executioners in the last days of the French revolution. A struggle in which success is measured by the lopping off and collecting of as many nobles’ heads as possible.

The game is easily learned, but the random nature of its course (especially when more than two players are involved) turns it into a chaotic affair where luck and skill alternate.

The bloody nature of the topic is gracefully sidestepped with use of plain and humorous art. The images on the cards are provided by two veteran Wizards artists: Quinton Hoover and Mike Raabe, both with a long career of MtG-illustration as a merit.

Even though the publisher is famous for flogging good games t death with expansions, Guillotine curiously never got anything additional designed for it. An omission that is tackled with the addition of new cards in boardgamegeek.

The simple nature of the game lends itself to online play as well. A version was produced for the aborted Gleemax portal. It is now available on the gametableonline.com, and much more attractively on facebook as well. Haven’t tried either, but will do, soon.

Jan 082009

Skate. LogoOne of the most pleasant recent gaming discoveries has been EA Black Box’s Skate.. I was originally impressed by the demo when the game came out, and when the game was on sale for ten euros at the Digiexpo, I just had to pick it up.

The game reinvents the skateboarding genre by vastly simplifying the controls from the increasingly circus-like Tony Hawk-series. The twin analogue sticks control the body and the board of the avatar (with the hands controlled by the twin triggers). Instead of precision-memorized long sequences of button presses, the moves are kept very much on the natural side.

Skate. is set in the fictional city of San Vanelona, a pleasant combination of several Californian cities – sunshine from Los Angeles and steep hills from San Francisco.

The Wii version of Skate. is one of the few games that uses the balanceboard (from WiiFit) for controls – sadly, according to the reviews, they are not precise enough for comfortable handling of the skater.

Dec 282008

Doritos Dash of Destruction LogoDoritos Dash of Destruction arrived last week into XBox Live Arcade as a free game. Unlike the previous pure ad-games (such as Burger King’s), this one is available all over the world.

The game idea surfaced in the chips-maker’s Unlock the XBox-challenge, and was implemented neatly by Ninjabee.

The plot of the game is a simple one: a cybernetically enhanced T-Rex is trying to stop a chip delivery truck.

Yes. It’s a simple plot, not an enlightened one.

Predictably the game offers two modes: either as the dinosaur or the truck – both cruising the streets of half a dozen of small towns. Wreaking destruction as they inevitably bump into the fragile buildings surrounding the narrow streets.

The game plays simple. There’s just one button to take care of in addition to the steering. The two campaigns (as an increasingly pimped lizard or a vehicle) are short, and the game is easily finished in an hour or two.

Achievements-wise the process is simple as well. The harvest of 200 gamerscore is available with a pair of playthroughs and a brief locally hosted multiplayer session on top. My first 100% coverage of a game thus far.

There isn’t much to the longevity of the game, but it’s a small, pleasant and free diversion that doesn’t really have anything against it.

(And yes, the Game of the Week-series has been on an embarrassingly long break, and will now return to a bit more regular pace.)

Sep 052008

Golf:  Tee It Up!  LogoHousemarque’s Golf: Tee It Up! was one of the many summer releases for the Xbox Live Arcade.

It’s a seemingly simple golf game, decked with beautiful graphics. A game that initially turns out rather easy, but the second course, set in scottish Highlands, demands a lot more than casual attention, as it’s packed with a couple of greens whose sloping borders on sadistic.

The game is not a simulator – far from that. Although the physics are definitely on the realistic side, the ability to slow and alter the ball’s course mid-air is a feature rarely encountered on actual links.

This review is obviously long overdue, but suddenly timely, with the release of the desert course DLC.

Aug 042008

LocoRocoBeen a good while since I played anything on any mobile device. Picked up one of the early hits for Sony’s PSP, Loco Roco from a sale and enjoyed the game quite a bit.

It’s a simple game, with minimalistic controls and naivistic graphics. The background story makes as much sense as expected, so it’s better to concentrate on the mechanics of play. The protagonist of the game, the eponymous LocoRoco, is an amorphous blob that grows in size after eating flowers. The pseudo-amoeba is not controlled directly (apart from jumping), the player interacts with the creature by tilting the world left or right with the shoulder buttons. Occasionally the need arises to split the LocoRoco into smaller critters, to be re-merged later – this may occur automatically, or be invoked by the player.

Music plays a surprisingly large role in the game. The LocoRoco (of whom there are six variants in the game) all have their own voices, and they like to sing. The language is an invented one, so localization is not really an issue.

The levels (of which there are forty) are five-ten minute affairs, and very well signposted – it’s pretty nigh impossible to get stuck therein. The settings vary from the expected lush fields to arctic areas (where the action is far swifter than normally) via the guts of gigantic animals.

In addition to mere passing of the levels is a cornucopia of hidden things to be discovered by trial and error. The secret things do not matter in the main game at all, and pretty soon some of the walls begin to seem very suspicious, leading to an effortless discovery of some of the hidden elements (some are camouflaged much better, obviously).

The last level of the game was the only one that gave me any trouble, and the problems were rather easily surmounted: this was the only level where the physics model of the game really mattered and actually demanded attention from the player.

Jun 172008

Scene It?  Lights, Camera, Action-Logo
Bought Screenlife’s Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action for the Xbox 360 off a sale last week.

It’s a trivia game for movie buffs, packed with clips and questions from hundreds of movies.

The game comes with four extra controllers, packed with four answer buttons and a big buzzer for those rounds where time is of the essence. The controllers are used via a USB-connected infra red-receiver, and do work impeccably.

A sample question from Scene It?  Lights, Camera, ActionThe movie selection in the game is heavily based on the Hollywood from eighties onwards – older and international movies are rare beasts indeed.

The questions come in wide variety of forms, ranging from simple trivia (“how many Oscars did Titanic win”) to picture puzzles (image on the left) via arranging four movies in chronological order.

Achievements-wise the game is a pleasure to play – gamerscore racks up quickly during the first rounds as the questions are correctly answered. A full 1000 points will take time, but then again, most games do. But it won’t require hundreds of shot up enemies, like GTA4 does.

Apr 272008

TypeRacer LogoBeen playing a couple of games of TypeRacer, and politely reminded that learning the 10-finger system is not a mandatory part of the finnish curriculum.

My rather unorthodox typing style does not lend itself well to scoring high in the game. Though let it be known that the incredibly low score in the first game was due to capitalization confusion (blatantly missed the immediate and pointed feedback provided by the game).

But it can only improve with practice.

And the act of racing a car with your wpm (to lyrics of random songs and many other sources) is actually rather a pleasant way of getting typing exercise.

Apr 032008

Spin the Black Circle Logo
Yeah, the name of the game is a blatant rip of the first song off Pearl Jam’s third album.

But that doesn’t diminish the appeal of Alejandro Guillen’s Spin the Black Circle.

Simple controls, addictive gameplay, effective physics model – what’s there not to like. Apart from the fact that once addiction sets in, the inertia/gravity combo is pretty hard to let go.

Yeah, it’s not game of the week still, and this is not the interactive fiction-dose that was promised (still haven’t finished Lost Pig.)

Mar 162008

Yeah, as the most observant of you have noted, this class of entries actually is about “games of an indeterminate period”.

Anyway, I expect that entries will be added about recently enjoyed games, and created a separate category for them.

Forumwarz remains enjoyable, located an interesting interview with the authors and appended a link to it in the original entry.

Next up: something from the interactive fiction-side of the yard – it’s been a while since the last IF-post.

Mar 152008

Scrabulous logoI’ve been playing a couple of games of Scrabulous on facebook lately.

The legally quite contested take on the classic Scrabble word game works well, and is recommended to all fans of the game. This version of the game is optimized for sneak peeks during the working day, since the interaction between players is minimal and there’s absolutely no need for simultaneous activity (there is a token messaging mechanism for gloating).

The game works as expected, and keeps statistics across the tens of million games played. Sadly, the statistics on used words is not available, since easy browsability would lead to rampant cheating. That is, if looking for words outside the game IS indeed considered to be cheating.

Dictionaries are available in three languages, and I seriously think whoever’s been using words like “SINGHIOZZEREBBE” (worth 2000+ points alone) to outscore his opponents has probably has probably been shooting for this word since the very beginning of the game – the fact that the same guy has used the word in multiple games is even scarier. My top word’s been worth 36 points thus far, “JETS” hit both a triple-square and used the “s” to complete another word – hence the unexpectedly high take.

Feb 272008

ForumWarz LogoIf the prospect of a postmodern webgame that concentrates on the wrong side of the internet culture appeals to you at all, ForumWarz is heavily recommended.

ForumWarz is a beautifully realized implementation that emulates the whole internet in a single browser window – be it forums, instant messaging, misanthropic people, suspicious webstores or spam, it’s all here. And as a game it’s a great parody

Me, I’m a third level troll, on track to pwn as many forums as possible with tools such as spoiler generation and gratuitous ASCII art.

EDIT (16.3.2008): Andy Baio interviews the authors. It’s not your average interview:

We used to drink beer and go out for dinner at every meeting, but after a couple of months that got expensive and unproductive.